Thursday, September 9, 2010

Because of the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain.

I was re-reading the Acts of the Apostles recently, and something very profound stood out to me that didn't 'hit me' as it should have in the past: the Apostle Paul loved his Jewish brothers dearly! Not being a Jew myself, and thus not having lived the Jewish lifestyle, I can only get a glimpse of what it was like for St Paul when he stood among his brethren to share the Gospel with them.

While today it is a very unpopular thing to do - even politically incorrect, if not "anti-Semitic" by some (false) reckoning - sharing the Gospel with the Jews is no less important than it was at the time of the Apostles. And traditionally, the Catholic Church has always made it clear that all men need salvation, including Jews, and that salvation comes only through the Lord Jesus Christ. Given this, it is sad that there had been such a de-emphasis on sharing the Gospel with all mankind, as if some don't need to know about Jesus, or worse yet, some don't need Jesus at all! And when one reads the New Testament writings, especially Acts, they see how important and dear it was to share the Gospel with the Jews first and foremost.

In the epilogue of Acts (written by St Luke, Paul's companion), one of the last things Paul says to the Jews is: "Because of the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain." (28:20) Taken in isolation, this verse doesn't mean much; but taken in context, this means the world to Paul. After his miraculous conversion, Paul sees new meaning in his life as a Jewish-Christian, and a new calling by God to be a major spokesman for the Good News of Jesus. But this would come at a price. From the day of his conversion, his life would be a roller coaster of suffering and persecution, as he briefly explains: "Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:24ff)

The first thing Paul did upon his Baptism was to go to the local synagogues - where the Jews prayed - to share the Good News he was blessed to receive himself. But often times the Jews would not have this, and whenever Paul began making converts, other (jealous) Jews would stir up riots and threaten his life. But in spite of all this, God, in His Providence, preserved Paul's life so that His chosen vessel could carry the Gospel to the ends of the (colonized) earth. When Paul said, "Because of the hope of Israel, I am bound with this chain," this was after he had been forcibly taken from Jerusalem to Rome - so after his final pleading with the Jews of the Jewish capital, he could make a few bold appeals to the Jews in the world's capital. From this point on, he remained semi-imprisoned (under house arrest) in Rome, writing many of his Epistles, until his martyrdom.

This line was so profound to me because it always seemed as if the focus on sharing the Gospel was the Gentiles, especially for Paul. But the fact is, all throughout Acts, even to the very last chapter, the Jews are given a very special and primary emphasis when it came to evangelization. Since the Jews were originally chosen by God, based on a promise He made to Abraham, to be entrusted with sharing His Law and eventually His Son to the world, it was only fitting that the Jews should be the first to hear and accept the Gospel. For people today to say the Jews don't need to hear the Gospel so that they might know their Messiah and be eternally saved is not only a slap in the face to Paul and the efforts of the other Apostles, it's a monstrous injustice. The Catholic Church has always maintained that not sharing the gospel with unbelievers (of any background) is akin to not sharing food with a starving person. In the case of the Jews, the (spiritually) starving people were Paul's own brethren.

So what does this mean for us today? And how are we to share the Gospel with the Jews when Saint Paul himself had such a difficult time doing so? Certainly, most of us cannot match the abilities of Paul, nor are we endowed with the same level of the outpouring of gifts of the Spirit as he was. But Providence teaches us that God always provides a way, and uses various means to accomplish His Plans.

I believe one of the strongest apologetics and evangelization arguments that can be made to Jews is to get them to realize that the Judaism they practice today is not the Judaism to which Saint Paul, nor Jesus, nor even Moses believed in and practiced. Why is this so? The fullest expression of worshiping God for the Jewish mind is that of Temple worship and sacrifice, which is also a central aspect of the Mosaic Law. But since 70 A.D., this ideal form of worship has been an impossibility, since the center of Jewish worship, the Temple, was utterly destroyed by the Roman Empire armies. But that's not all, around that time Jews began losing their identity through other difficulties and persecutions, quickly leading to the loss of the Levitical priesthood (and the loss of the other Tribal lineages as well). Just as without the Temple, the center of worship has been lost, so with the loss of the Levitical priesthood there can be no sacrifices according to the Torah for everyday Jewish life and living. And with these forever lost for about 2,000 years, this means that the "Judaism" of today is in its essence, not true Judaism and certainly not that of the Apostolic times. This is only further compounded by the fact there has been no new Divine Revelation or Prophets for the Jews for at least that long.

To put this problem in terms of Catholicism: it would be as if the Papacy and Apostolic Succession had been lost for 2,000 years, and no new Apostles for at least that long. Practicing Catholicism would be (functionally) impossible, since there would be no priesthood, no Sacraments, and no Church Authority. This "Catholicism" would not be the Catholicism of the Apostles.

Given this, today's Jews are faced with a very big question:  
Is God trying to tell us something in that we've not been able to worship Him as his Law demands for almost 2,000 years? 
(Not being able to worship God according to the Torah is no joke for the Jewish mind.)
I believe the answer is, "Yes!" The only alternative - which all would agree is unacceptable - is that the God of Israel was a false god all along, since that's the only thing that can explain this 2,000 year abandonment.

Since the God of Israel is the One True God, then there must be an explanation, and the only reasonable explanation is Christianity (which arose right within the time frame when the Temple was destroyed). Christianity is the only group that can honestly claim to uphold the Torah and Prophets - and this by pointing out that they are fulfilled in Jesus, the Hope of Israel.

How can a Jew today "object" to this reasoning? I don't see how they can. And this is not Christians acting mean in any way, but rather this is sharing the Truth in Love.

In my recent study for my 70AD post, I came across various quotes from Early Church Fathers who had made similar arguments as far back as Origen (185AD). Here is what they said:
  • Origen, The Principles 4:3, says: But if the prophet's words be true, when he says, The children of Israel shall abide many days without king, without prince; and there shall be no victim, nor altar, nor priesthood; [Hosea 3:4] and if, certainly, since the overthrow of the temple, victims are neither offered, nor any altar found, nor any priesthood exists, it is most certain that, as it is written, princes have departed from Judah, and a leader from between his thighs, until the coming of Him for whom it has been reserved. It is established, then, that He has come for whom it has been reserved, and in whom is the expectation of the Gentiles. And this manifestly seems to be fulfilled in the multitude of those who have believed on God through Christ out of the different nations.
  • Origen, Against Celsus 4:22, says: But, according to Celsus, the Christians, making certain additional statements to those of the Jews, assert that the Son of God has been already sent on account of the sins of the Jews; and that the Jews having chastised Jesus, and given him gall to drink, have brought upon themselves the divine wrath. And any one who likes may convict this statement of falsehood, if it be not the case that the whole Jewish nation was overthrown within one single generation after Jesus had undergone these sufferings at their hands. For forty and two years, I think, after the date of the crucifixion of Jesus, did the destruction of Jerusalem take place. Now it has never been recorded, since the Jewish nation began to exist, that they have been expelled for so long a period from their venerable temple-worship and service, and enslaved by more powerful nations; for if at any time they appeared to be abandoned because of their sins, they were notwithstanding visited (by God), and returned to their own country, and recovered their possessions, and performed unhindered the observances of their law.
  •  Athanasius, On the Incarnation 40, says: For if, I say—which is just what we actually see—there is no longer king nor prophet nor Jerusalem nor sacrifice nor vision among them, but even the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of God, and Gentiles, leaving their godlessness, are now taking refuge with the God of Abraham, through the Word, even our Lord Jesus Christ, then it must be plain, even to those who are exceedingly obstinate, that the Christ has come, and that He has illumined absolutely all with His light, and given them the true and divine teaching concerning His Father. So one can fairly refute the Jews by these and by other arguments from the Divine Scriptures.
  •  Tertullian, Against Marcion 3:23, says: Therefore these things either did not happen to the Jews on His account, in which case you will be refuted by the sense of the Scriptures tallying with the issue of the facts and the order of the times, or else they did happen on His account, and then the Creator could not have inflicted the vengeance except for His own Christ; nay, He must have rather had a reward for Judas, if it had been his master's enemy whom they put to death. At all events, if the Creator's Christ has not come yet, on whose account the prophecy dooms them to such sufferings, they will have to endure the sufferings when He shall have come. Then where will there be a daughter of Sion to be reduced to desolation, for there is none now to be found? Where will there be cities to be burnt with fire, for they are now in heaps? Where a nation to be dispersed, which is already in banishment?


Helen said...

Hi Nick.

Great blog!!

I have a question for you, and sorry to post it here. I hope that's ok.

I've been debating with a rather stubborn protestant on the fact that Saints are not dead people, like they call them. Only to find out that they, the protestant, believe that when we die we all go to 'sleep' until the 2nd coming of Jesus.
Now, before we got into that I had given him a few passages for his consideration.

Firstly, I explained that The RCC teaches what the Bible tells us, that when we abide in the Word of God, therefore in Jesus, who is the word incarnate, we inherit the Kingdom of God. This is seen in the scriptures in many instances, but I used the Parable of the good Samaritan, just because it uses the notion of 'inheriting the kingdom', which I thought was appropriate.

I also clarified that Catholics believe that whoever dies in the Grace of God, will be welcomed into heaven and then be ‘resurrected in the flesh’ when the Lord comes in the 2nd time. cf. 1 Cor. 15:35–44, 1 John 3:2).

Then I used Paul’s explanation in
15:20 The 1st fruits: the portion of the harvest offered in thanksgiving to God implies the consecration of the harvest to come. Therefore, Christ’s resurrection is not an end in itself, its finality lies in the whole harvest: OURSELFVES.

And then I used some passages, such as Mt 17:1-5 - The transfiguration of Jesus praying with Moses and Elijah.

Then Jn 11:21-25 - On what Jesus tells Martha regarding the death of Lazarus and the resurrection

Then 2 Maccabees 15: 13-16 - When Jeremiah appears to a former high priest...

And Mt 22:29 - Jesus talks about the Resurrection and how God is a the God of the living not the dead.

Now, even though Jesus says to Martha:

"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" Jn 11:25-26

This person I am 'debating' with picks on the fact that Jesus told the Apostles who'd seen Elijah and Moses not to talk about their 'vision' to anyone.

Now, I've been trying to argue that a vision refers to anything seen in a supernatural capacity. But I was curious to know what the Greek original says. Is it vision or is it just a bad translation? Because some Bibles say

9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, "Don't tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." Mt 17:9

Please, I'd appreciate your input.



Anonymous said...

Helen....I don't know about this person...but most protestant's believe what the Word of God says. All those in be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

Nick said...

Hi Helen,

There are only some Protestants who believe in "soul sleep" (mostly Seventh Day Adventists). Most Protestants don't believe this, and instead believe the soul goes immediately to Heaven or Hell. At that point, they simply believe the soul isn't able to or isn't allowed to hear our prayers.

The passages you give are good, though I would also add a few from Paul. One popular one is Philippians 1 where Paul says something to the effect: "it is better to be absent in the flesh and with the Lord, but for your sakes I'm remaining in the flesh for now."

As for the Transfiguration, Jesus told them not to tell anyone UNTIL He had risen from the dead. After that, they were to tell all of this magnificent event: 2 Peter 1:16-18 is very important in this regard.

I'm not sure which term for "vision" you're speaking of, but you're right, the term here is not that this was a hallucination but a supernatural revelation. Paul at his conversion saw a "vision" of Christ in Heaven, but that was really Jesus talking to him.

Either way though, if speaking with the dead is forbidden, it's forbidden even in a imaginary vision - if the Protestant wants this to be a non-real vision.

ἐκκλησία said...

I assume that you recognize not all Jews were Israelites (many were Edmomites (i.e. King Herod)), not all Israelites were Jews (like those of the House of Israel at war with the Jews in [2 Kings 16:6], ever after)), so you should really be clear when talking about the ethnic group denoting them as Hebrews rather than "Jews".

The term "Jews" excludes 'insiders' and includes 'outsiders'.

Nick said...

I assume you meant Edomites, though I've never heard of any Jews being Edomites since Edom denotes Esau's lineage and "Israel" is God's name for Jacob (who's lineage the Jewish promises were through). Anyway, it's usually a given that the Edomites are not in focus when speaking of the Jews, or their other Biblical name Israelites. The focus of my post specifically was on those who adhered to the Mosaic Law.

ἐκκλησία said...

Nick said: "I've never heard of any Jews being Edomites"

Even so, it is true that not all Jews are Israelites.

From here: The Herods were the Edomite family that ruled Israel during the time of Jesus' earthly ministry and the first Christian church. The Jewish ruling council, called Sanhedrin, was under the authority of the Herods, who were in turn under the authority of the Roman emperor."

This means that the reigning Jewish kings during Jesus's time weren't Israelites. It also suggests how we should recognize the ‘goats’ in the flock. How is this possible you ask?

From David’s reign onwards, Edom was an Israelite protectorate. From Wikipedia: "An Edomite prince named Hadad escaped and fled to Egypt, and after David's death returned and tried to start a rebellion, but failed and went to Syria.[25] From that time Edom remained a vassal of Israel. David placed over the Edomites Israelite governors or prefects...[26]"

To see how Edom repaid Israel look closely at the book of Esther.

The Agagites opposed the tribe of Judah in Babylon [Esther 3:10] (Haman the Agagite was the chief opponent). After their failure, they (and others) became Jews because of fear [Esther 8:17]. Agagites were Edomites descended from Amalek who was Esau's grandson ([Gen. 36:12][1 Chr 1:36]).

So many Edomites in Babylon became Jews [Ezra 9:1][Ezra 10:10]. More alarmingly, the Edomites who had not gone to Babylon possessed Jerusalem after Judah’s capture [Oba 1:10-11] and mingled with the tribe of Judah upon the time of return [Ezra 4:1-3].

This is in part why Ezra was upset about lineage [Ezra 2:59] and ultimately how most of the Jewish leaders were Edomites during the time of Jesus.

Since not all Jews were Israelites [Rev 2:9][Rev 3:9] when we speak of Jews we are really speaking about a Babylonian mish-mash rather than God's people. Thus, if we denote the people of the covenant as Hebrews rather than Jews, we speak more precisely.

Since you were talking about Paul's argument about his bondage to Israel, it seemed wise to clarify that to equivocate the terms "Israel" and "Jew" was misleading.

Nick said...

While the information you put forward seems valid, I don't think that level of precision was critical to my original point.

Bezant said...


In this article you make what I have noticed as a common Christian assumption, more or less, that 'Valid Judiasm Ended When The Second Temple Fell':

"The fullest expression of worshiping God for the Jewish mind is that of Temple worship and sacrifice, which is also a central aspect of the Mosaic Law."

Is the Temple central and important to Judaism? Yes. But Judaism does not depend on the Temple as a crutch. Catholicism cannot exist without the Church; the Temple is not analogous to Judaism in that way. That's why Judaism survived not once without a temple, but twice without one.

The first things God commanded to Israel in the Sinai was not build a temple (every ancient people had a temple), but to make him king and the centre of their lives, AND to bond themselves into a nation. The Temple wasn't built until Solomon's time, centuries after the Sinai covenant.

You say, "I believe one of the strongest apologetics and evangelization arguments that can be made to Jews is to get them to realize that the Judaism they practice today is not the Judaism to which Saint Paul, nor Jesus, nor even Moses believed in and practiced."

Well, Jews do know that practices have evolved over the centuries, and your argument will not fly. Just because there have been changes -- a change not dependent on Paul or Jesus at all, for obvious reasons -- does not make Judaism untrue.

"But that's not all, around that time Jews began losing their identity through other difficulties and persecutions, quickly leading to the loss of the Levitical priesthood (and the loss of the other Tribal lineages as well)."

Actually, many Jews argue that persecution has forged Jewish identity, and that this part of shared history is part of what makes one a Jew.

"Just as without the Temple, the center of worship has been lost, so with the loss of the Levitical priesthood there can be no sacrifices according to the Torah for everyday Jewish life and living."

But these are not crucially necessary to Judaism anyway.

"And with these forever lost for about 2,000 years, this means that the "Judaism" of today is in its essence, not true Judaism and certainly not that of the Apostolic times."

Maybe the Third Temple is forever lost to you, but not to all Jews.

Secondly, if you're tell a Jew saying modern Judaism isn't true Judaism, expect to be be quickly dismissed as another presumptuous evangliser.

"This is only further compounded by the fact there has been no new Divine Revelation or Prophets for the Jews for at least that long."

Judaism does not depend on new divine revelations or prophets anymore than Christianity does.

Nick said...

Hello Bezant,

When I point out that the Torah as a whole isn't being kept, the Priesthood is lost, no Kingdom, Temple or Divine Revelation for 2,000 years, etc, you seem more or less OK with that, even if it's not ideal.

Is that what you're saying?

If so, then we have two Judaisms in mind. It's utterly scandalous to me, and I believe pre-2nd Temple Judaism, to shrug off such details.

To me, the attitude is similar to Protestantism, which gradually sheds more and more of it's past as soon as things become inconvenient, and as a result 'evolves' into a new animal over time. For example, the "Reformation" was originally based on reform of Catholicism, but now that's not even on the agenda, only an 'every man for himself' in their permanent settlements known as denominations.

So when you say Jewish practice has "evolved over the centuries," my argument is simply: can essentials evolve without ceasing to be the same religion? I say no.

If I asked you "what does it mean to be a Jew?," could you give me an answer based on concrete principles?

Bezant said...

Hello Nick,

More narrowed, I have several strong objections to your article: your claim the loss of the Second Temple to Judaism is equivalent to the loss of Apostolic Succession and the Papacy to Catholicism; your erroneous presumption that Jews “don’t realize” the Judaism practiced in the Second Temple Period is not exactly the same as the Judaism practiced today; your presumption that there’s been a change in Jewish ‘essentials’ (whatever they are); your attempt, as a non-Jew and through the lens of your interpretation of the NT, to call out Judaism for what it “actually” is; that God has abandoned the Jews; your idea that no new Divine Revelation is a “bad sign” for Judaism (but not Christianity) etc., etc. That’s just to start with.

However, the most significantissues to which I object are: 1) You completely ignore what Jews and Judaism say about Judaism (quite diverse opinions), 2) You ignore the views Jews and Judaism have of Christianity (also diverse); and 2) you casually dismiss the sensitivity of evangelising Jews—even as you say mean well.

For centuries Jews lived under Christian rule/predominance with anything from persecution and forced conversions to social pressure and stigmatisation. Even today Jews are still a focus of often pesky missionary attention. For many Jews, even some of the more secular stripes, evangelisation would (next to intermarriage followed by a low demographic birthrate) spur Jews unto disappearing as a people. These matters are not something you can dismiss casually, in spite of how (your interpretation of) salvation works.

What you could do—and I would find it a very interesting article—is address and counter-argue Jewish objections to Christianity. I’ve rarely seen Christians do so, and have never seen it done very well (so far).



Nick said...

Hello Bezant,

I didn't claim the loss of the temple was equivalent to the loss of Apostolic Succession. If anything, I made that comparison of the Catholic Priesthood with the Levitical Priesthood.

I think you missed the fundamental point of my position, which is that Judaism needs concrete things that define it to be what it is - in other words "essentials". If you have no concrete and agreed upon essentials, then Judaism becomes a nebulous concept loosely ordered around a specific gene pool.